Hauptman, Herbert Aaron (1917-), an American theoretical chemist, shared the 1985 Nobel Prize in chemistry with his co-worker Jerome Karle for devising improved mathematical methods to determine the structure of a crystal struck by X rays.
Hauptman was born on Feb. 14, 1917, in New York City. He grew up in the part of the city known as the Bronx and graduated from Townsend Harris High School. In 1937, he received a bachelor of science degree in mathematics from City College of New York. He earned a master's degree in mathematics from Columbia University in 1939 and a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Maryland in 1955.
From 1940 to 1942, Hauptman worked as a statistician for the Bureau of the Census. From 1942 to 1943 and 1946 to 1947, he worked as an instructor in electronics and radar at the U.S. Army Air Force base in Boca Raton, Florida.
In 1947, Hauptman became a researcher at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. There he began his collaboration with Karle, a physical chemist and fellow graduate of City College. Most of the work that led to their Nobel Prize was done at the laboratory from 1950 to 1956.
Hauptman and Karle focused their study on X-ray crystallography, a method of determining the atomic structure of a substance by passing a beam of X rays through a pure crystal of the substance and analyzing the pattern of diffraction of the rays after they have passed through the crystal. The X rays are scattered from the rows of regularly spaced atoms in the crystal and captured on photographic film. When this film is analyzed, the arrangement of the atoms within the substance can be determined.
Scattered rays reinforce each other if their waves are “in step” or cancel each other out if they are “out of step.” The spacing of the atoms and the angle of the scattering produce a pattern of bright and dark spots unique to that substance. Using traditional methods of X-ray crystallography, interpreting the patterns of atoms on the photographic plates could take a year or more, because while photographic film could record the intensity of the spots, it could not record the phases (small deviations from straight lines) of the X rays. The combination of Hauptman's ability in mathematics and Karle's skills in physical chemistry enabled the two scientists to develop a new method of analysis in X-ray crystallography to solve this problem.
Hauptman and Karle developed a complex series of mathematical formulas, which drew in part from probability theory, that made it possible to correctly infer the phases of the X rays from the patterns on the photographic film. Their mathematical system was called the direct method. They wrote about their work in the book Solution of the Phase Problem, 1. The Centrosymmetric Crystal, published in 1953.
At first, other scientists in the field of X-ray crystallography ignored or criticized this new method. The method involved time-consuming calculations and mathematical expertise, unfamiliar to most crystallographers. But in the 1960's, as computers and special programs to deal with the Hauptman-Karle method were introduced, the direct method gained widespread acceptance. It has allowed scientists to determine the atomic structures of far more substances, in far less time, than would have been possible using other methods.
Hauptman continued to work with Karle at the Naval Research Laboratory until 1970. Hauptman then became professor of biophysics at the State University of New York at Buffalo. His book Crystal Structure Determination: The Role of the Cosine Seminvariants was published in 1972. In the 1990's, Hauptman assumed an additional position at the university as professor of computer science.
Hauptman joined a crystallographic research group at the Medical Foundation of Buffalo (MFB) in 1970. He became its vice president and director in 1972 and its president in 1988. At the MFB, he continued his work on the direct method. In the 1990's, Hauptman and his colleagues introduced a new computer program that could determine chemical structures in substances of up to several hundred atoms within a few hours or days. In 1994, the MFB changed its name to the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute. In addition to his position as president, Hauptman has served on the institute's board of directors since 1999.
Hauptman received the Pure Science Award from the Scientific Research Society of America in 1959 and the Schoellkopf Award from the American Chemical Society in 1986. He lives in Buffalo, New York.